This article was carried in The Crest Edition of The Times Of India, dated June 18, 2011
Avadhis will graciously hear you praise mangoes from other parts of the country but they are firm on one thing — the king of mangoes is the delicately flavoured Malihabadi Dussehri
Lucknow does not have a problem with being called an ‘aam shaher’ (a common city). And why would it? The city of graces is home to what it considers the mango royalty — Dussehri, Chausa, Safeda — even Langda from the neighbouring Varanasi.
So addictive, say Avadhis, are the Dussehris, that they would rather go mango-less than eat any other variety . TV actress Aarti Singh, who works in Mumbai, craves for the Lucknow mangoes. “I miss the Malihabadi Dussehri. Ever since i shifted to Mumbai, I stopped eating mangoes as I don’t find that sweet taste here,” she says.
Vishal Anand, a businessman who travels across the country, has tasted every region’s produce. But nothing, he says, matches the delicate smell and blush of a ripened Dussehri. “I’ve eaten Alphonso, Malda, Himsagar — but they are nowhere near Dussehri in taste,” he says.
Avadh takes mango worship to a different level. For the rest of the country, mango eating maybe a hearty ritual with no time to spare for refinement. But in Avadh enjoying a mango is very much a part of the Nawabi culture.
“Mango eating is about nazakat (delicacy) and nafasat (refinement),” says citybased writer KP Saxena. “In some families, mangoes were served to guests on a tashtari (tray), decorated with roses. It was considered improper to present cut slices of the fruit to the guests.”
How to eat mangoes best is the subject of much polemics among old-time Avadhis. Jafar Mir Abdullah, a descendant of Avadh Nawabs, says that it is a delicate fruit and should be eaten with the zabaan (tongue) and not the teeth. “We used to have mango-eating contests, and to the sheer bewilderment of the audience, some would consume dozens within minutes,” recalls Jafar.
Urdu poets, when they were not bemoaning the infidelity of their lovers, often waxed eloquent about mangoes. Mirza Ghalib was an avid mango lover and would even miss mushairas to remain in the company of the fruits. It is said that once Ghalib was savouring mangoes just outside his home when a donkey came by. The animal smelt the discarded mango peels lying around on the ground and walked away without tasting them. Seeing this, a passerby remarked: “Huzur, donkeys don’t eat mangoes.” The poet immediately quipped: “Yes, only donkeys don’t eat mangoes.” Poet Nida Fazli too sings paeans to the majestic fruit: “Acchi sangat baith kar sangi badle roop, jaise milkar aam se meethi ho gayi dhoop (good company transforms a man just as sunlight sweetens as it glances off a mango).”
Malihabad, about 30 km from Lucknow, is known for producing the best Dussehris in the country. Padma Shri Kalimullah Khan, who is known for having grafted new varieties of mango — some named after celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan — is the town’s most famous resident. “Malihabadi mangoes are high on demand; even foreign countries have become addicted to them and place bulk orders every season,” says Kalimullah.
Among the mangoes grown in the north, loyalties are divided between Dussehri, Langda and Chausa. Saxena prefers Chuswa over Dussehri. “Chuswa is sweeter and one gets great satisfaction in consuming it. We would sit in the orchards of Malihabad in 1960s and end up eating a dozen chuswa mangoes. It is full of pulp and hence cannot be cut into slices. You have to press it softly from all sides and savour it directly,” says the writer who has penned dialogues for Bollywood.
Avadhis are a gracious lot but their pehle aap culture does not quite extend to ceding territory to mangoes from elsewhere.